As La Liga’s title race enters its final six matches of the season, Real Madrid head to Celta Vigo knowing they can ill-afford another slip-up at Balaidos.
In the penultimate game of the 2013-14 campaign, Real lost 2-0 at Celta, a result which ended their hopes of reclaiming the league trophy.
This season, Carlo Ancelotti’s men are well in the hunt again, although they lie two points behind fierce rivals Barcelona, who kick-off at Espanyol more than 24 hours before Real get under way.
As a result, Real could begin the game five points adrift of the leaders or, should Barca fail to take all three points in the Catalan derby, Ancelotti’s side will be able to replace them at the summit with victory over Celta.
Ancelotti is without the trio of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric (both knee) and Gareth Bale (calf), which means Javier Hernandez could be given another start after his late winner in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid in midweek.
Real were paired with Serie A leaders Juventus in Friday’s draw for the last four, but before the first leg in Turin on May 5 they have three crucial league encounters against Celta, Almeria and Sevilla.
Ninth-placed Celta, meanwhile, still have their sights set on a UEFA Europa League place, hopes which have been boosted by back-to-back wins.
Santi Mina was the star two weeks ago, scoring four in a 6-1 drubbing of Rayo Vallecano, before Nolito’s penalty sealed a 1-0 success at Eibar last time out.
Right-back Jonny Castro has featured in all but two of Celta’s league outings this season, and says Real’s trio of absentees barely weaken one of the strongest squads in world football.
“We know they’ll be coming here with some people missing but they still have a great bench,” he said. “You always want to play against the best but whoever comes in will perform equally as well, if not better.
“All their players are of a very high standard and they’ll be giving their all because they are playing for the title, but we can compete against the big sides.
“We are aware we’ll need to run twice as much as usual yet this is a team that is growing and moving forward.
“The dream of reaching Europe is still alive and hopefully we’ll play well to please our fans. There are six games left and we’ll compete to the death in every one of them.
“Balaidos is a fortress and we are playing really well there, so we know we need to pick up most of our points at home.”